We are truly free when we let go of the hope that the past could or should have been any different than it was. This is so hard.
The challenge is born from our desperate need to validate our feelings and experiences. It often feels like we are invalidating ourselves if we let go of the hope that the past should have been different. We have been through hell, experienced things most people don’t know about, and it initially feels so devastating to think of just letting it go like it never happened. Where is the justice in that?
I know; I have been there. Honestly, I still have moments where I pick up this thought and carry it around for a while because it just feels like the right thing to do. To honor myself and my experiences, I have to stay connected to the injustice of the choices that others have made—choices that dramatically impacted my life and created immense amounts of pain.
After almost nineteen years of marriage, my husband, my high school sweetheart, told me that he was gay and had never been attracted to me.
I promise; I know pain. I spent weeks wrestling with myself, trying to think of all the things that could have happened, or maybe should have happened, to avoid the situation that was causing me so much pain.
Things like wishing I had paid attention to the red flags when we were dating, listening to my therapists over the years when they tried to get me to work on the issues between my husband and me, wishing I had never met him or he had been honest with me (which would have been the best for both of us, as I’m sure the lying hurt him as well). So many things I wish I could change. It seemed insurmountable at times.
For months I didn’t even want to consider accepting my reality. This felt like the most invalidating thing I could do. The rejection I experienced over the course of my marriage is not something I would wish on anyone.
Was I surprised when my ex-husband told me he was gay? This is hard to answer. I knew something was wrong. I knew I felt crazy and invisible and ugly. The number of nights I went to bed in tears over being invisible to the man I married was too many to count.
Now that I finally get to live in truth, how do I move forward? There is a twenty-year mountain of grief I am stuck carrying. I personally find this reality the worst: other people’s choices can cut us to the core. Others can hurt us, and the only way to live a healthy, fulfilling life is to be connected to other people.
I can’t tell you the countless nights this reality has kept me awake. I want more than anything to live on an island all by myself. For years I convinced myself I could be fully self-sufficient. I will earn my own money and take care of my own needs. I don’t want anything to do with being close enough to people for them to lie, cheat, and hurt me again. I wish this worked. I wish there were a way, but I am here to tell you there is not.
You can go that route; believe me, I have tried. It only brings more emptiness and pain. The truth is, we are hardwired for connection. We are mammals. We have to have others to survive. Those who are thriving have deep, meaningful, loving relationships. They feel the greatest highs and the pain of the deepest lows when someone breaks trust. This is the human experience. Unfortunately, some of us have experienced deeper levels of pain, but what I know for sure is that we are all capable of healing.
I have had to reframe what letting go means. It will never mean that my ex-husband’s choices were okay. I will never say the pain was worth it or not that bad. Living in a catfished relationship for twenty years will never be okay. There will always be days I feel the pain and grieve the past. Thankfully, those days are getting further apart, but they definitely still happen.
Letting go is feeling the grief of my reality so I can accept what I cannot change. I cannot change his lies. I cannot change my choices to believe them. I cannot change that I abandoned myself and my needs for the sake of him and our kids. I cannot change any of that.
I can feel the deep, tormenting pain and grieve that pain until it stops tormenting me. When I allow myself to feel, to sit in those feelings for as long as I need to, I validate myself. I am not waiting on the day when he or anyone else validates my experience.
No one will ever know the true depth of our pain. The days we sat in our closets and wept or cried ourselves quietly to sleep. We can validate that for ourselves, though. We can share our stories so others know they are not alone in their pain.
I know many of you reading this know my pain. Your story might be different, but your pain is not. If you feel stuck in moving forward, please know that the greatest gift you can give yourself is to fully feel all your feelings. “Go there,” as they say.
You don’t need to do it alone. Allow a therapist, mentor, or trusted friend to sit with you while you feel the depths of all your feelings. There is freedom on the other side. I promise. It is not perfect; my grief is not forever gone, but I am free. I am free of his choices, and I am free to create a life I didn’t know I could dream for myself while I was still tied in his web.
The work is scary, hard, and only for the courageous and brave. There are so many people who are here to cheer you on and stand beside you while you do the work. Be brave and start the journey of letting go. You are worth it.
I recently heard someone say that compassion is the intersection of love and suffering. I feel like I carried suffering around for so long, and I know that my ex has too. My ability to truly let go and be free came when I was able to also see my ex’s suffering and lovingly let him go.
I met him with compassion. It wasn’t easy. Compassion didn’t come quickly, and some days it is still hard. We were both raised in a culture that valued being good and loyal over happy and seen.
Our tragic story is the product of valuing rules and goodness over love, happiness, and self expression. I know we are not the first generation to suffer from this mindset, but I pray we are the last.
About Janice Holland
Janice Holland is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and Certified Trauma Model Therapist from the Ross Institute. After graduating from NYU in 2009, she has worked in schools, mental health hospitals and private practice helping people own their stories and curate the life they are proud to live. You can follow her work on Instagram @janicehollandlpc or read her weekly blogs at janiceholland.com